The Home Office has been accused of ‘racial profiling’ British citizens.
Thousands of British citizens from ethnic minorities have been questioned on suspicion of immigration offences over the past five years.
Despite being unable to commit immigration crimes, a total of 19,061 Brits have been quizzed since 2012 on issues such as overstaying a visa or entering the country illegally, according to data obtained by the Bristol Cable and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
In fact, one in five people involved in spot checks by immigration officials turned out to be British, while in some places, such as Sheffield, Glasgow and Leeds, it was one in three. The figures suggest weaknesses in the Home Office’s “intelligence-led” street operations.
It is against the law for any immigration officer (IO) to racially discriminate under the Equality Act 2010.
“Race can never be the basis of the IOs ‘reasonable suspicion’ that someone has committed an immigration offence”, Home Office guidance for enforcement visits states.
But people affected by raids have accused officers of profiling ethnic minorities.
“If staff looked Asian they were questioned more than the white people,” said one Brit who manages an Indian restaurant in Yorkshire which was raided in August
“Most of our staff are Asian but were born in the town and have English accents. We only have a couple of staff who speak broken English.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission said it would be “deeply worrying” if immigration officials and the Home Office were not following the law and their own guidance regarding immigration spot checks.
Six MPs, including Labour’s Hilary Benn and Stella Creasy, have called for answers from the Home Office.
“These figures are extraordinary. If the operations really are ‘intelligence-led’, then why are so many British citizens wrongly being stopped?” Mr Benn said.
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “Immigration enforcement officers are empowered to carry out an in-country examination of a person to establish their immigration status where they reasonably suspect that the person is in breach of immigration law.
“British citizens may be arrested for connected criminal offences arising from an immigration enforcement encounter. British citizens are not arrested with a view to removal.”
Frances Webber, a former barrister and vice-chair of the Institute of Race Relations, commented: “It is not enough for the Home Office simply to deny that racial profiling takes place, given the evidence of heavy-handed stops of BAME Britons at tube stations during Theresa May’s Operation Valken.
“The Home Office needs to demonstrate that its practice has changed. If its operations are intelligence-led, as it says, it needs to question the value of the intelligence it receives.”
This article was first published on The Overtake.